What solidifies a season’s success more than a bowl victory? For head coaches taking over teams that have struggled to reach the postseason in the past, nothing.
But for Arizona’s Mike Stoops and Nebraska’s Bo Pelini, just reaching any bowl game has lost its original luster. Fans are starting to expect more from these coaches even though just a few years ago a winning season would have sufficed.
This season, both Arizona and Nebraska pulled up just shy of reaching the ultimate post season goal…a BCS Bowl.
In the second to last week of play, Arizona failed to contain Jeremiah Masoli and his Oregon Ducks on the final drive in regulation, allowing the Ducks to take the game into extra frames, which eventually spelled their doom.
While this definitely stung, Nebraska’s woe story was even worse.
The Cornhuskers had the BCS rug pulled right from under them in the Big 12 Championship game against Texas. With only one second remaining and their dreams of playing in a post New Year's Eve bowl within reach, their hearts were shattered with an upright splitting field goal to end the game.
Both coaches will tell you that they have put these games behind them, but if either coach hopes to continue their undefeated bowl streaks they better fully practice what they preach.
Bo Pelini enters his third bowl game as a head coach but only his second without the “interim” tag.
After taking over as head coach in 2008, he improved the Cornhuskers' record by four wins and helped Nebraska bring home their first bowl victory since 2005. With expectations running sky high for the 2009 season, fans in the Greater Lincoln area are anxious to be a part of a 10-win season for the first time in six years.
Riding a 2-0 bowl record, Pelini’s impeccable defense will have to remain pristine in order keep his postseason win streak alive.
Mike Stoops, on the other hand, hasn’t experienced quite as easy of a journey to his second straight bowl bid.
Before reaching the Las Vegas Bowl last season, many believed that Stoops was not the correct fit for the Wildcats. Four seasons of below .500 records in Pac-10 conference play forced the devoted to wonder what Stoops could bring this organization’s future.
But after these past two successful seasons, these doubters aren’t afraid of taking liberal sips from the Stoop’s Kool-Aid themselves.
Stoops rattled off eight victories in 2008 and that was the most that the Wildcats had totaled since 1998, when they won 11 games and played who else but Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. The improvements appear to be carrying over this season as the Wildcats are in position to win their ninth game of the season.
Stoops hopes to continue the outstanding success he experienced last season in his first bowl game as a head coach. A victory in this year’s Pacific Life Holiday Bowl would be the first back to back bowl wins that Tucson has seen in over a decade and this could convince any lingering doubters that Stoops is the man to bring this school back to glory.
But which coach would benefit more from a win in one of the most interesting non-BCS bowls this season?
With Pelini’s head coaching tenure at Nebraska still in its early stages, a loss would not be absolutely devastating. His speedy success has put the Cornhuskers back on the map and a loss to Arizona will not change the fact that this team is more than capable of stirring the pot next year within the Big 12.
Losing to a ranked team in a bowl game in his second year shouldn’t bring pitchfork-armed fans to his castle.
While a loss for Stoops won’t exactly ignite an angry mob either, more people will probably question his big game coaching ability if he heads back to the desert carrying his first bowl defeat.
Stoops has much more to gain from a Holiday Bowl win considering the amount of time and faith the Wildcat nation have invested in this young coach. But more importantly, a loss could be a small yet rattling blow to the foundation that he has worked so hard to build.
For six years Arizona has put their trust in Stoops and although it hasn’t been smooth sailing throughout, they are undoubtedly headed in the right direction. But in this world of "What have you done for me lately?", a bowl loss this year parlayed with one more down season in the near future could put his head right back into the guillotine.